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[Page 287]

Once There Was a Shtetl

Mordkhai Zaytshik

Translation by Paula F. Parsky

Once there was a shtetl Lenin, a shtetl like all other little shtetlekh in the former Poland. This shtetl was located on the right bank of the river Slutsk[1] which runs into the river Pripets. Since the year 1939, Lenin belonged to Poland. The shtetl, which existed for about 300 years (according to the inscriptions on the oldest gravestones and according to the pinkes [record book] of the Khevre Kadishe [ritual burial society] and other similar sources), was always called Lenin.

It was a great wonder that-the Polish powers tolerated the name of the shtetl for so long and did not change it immediately in the first days of Poland's liberation. Only in 1939, 6 weeks before the Red Army marched into Western Byelorussia and into Western Ukraine, the Polish goverment remembered and changed the name from Lenin to Sosnkovice. But the inhabitants could not get used to the new name and very soon, as soon as the Red Army entered, again called the shtetl by its old name, Lenin.

By and large, Lenin was a very beautiful, clean and happy shtetl. After the end of the schools there, many young people continued their studies in Pinsk or in Vilne. The Jewish youth was 'enlightened' and intelligent. The shtetl possessed a beautiful public assemply place [folkshoyz], library, electric station, mill, etc. Everything existed until… the German animals in human form entered Lenin. Everything was quickly extinguished, and the destruction of the shtetl began.

In the beginning the Germans drove all the Jews, men and women, to different kinds of labor every day. Often, therefore, they were beaten without justification. The Jews were sent out ahead to repair the roads, so that if a mine lay somewhere, it would blow up on a Jew…

The first victim in Lenin was Nachum Aleynik, who was shot in the neck by an S. S. man as he lay sick in bed. He was shot because he did not give the officer vodka and tobacco quickly enough…

That same evening this same bandit and another of his friends, commanded 8 Jewish youth to be brought into the courtyard of the "Gymne" [gymnasium-a high level high school] and there shot every one of them. One of the young men, Isaac Brodatski, fled, but they pursued him, and seeing that they would very soon capture him, he jumped from the bridge in to the deep lake and never surfaced again. He chose death in the water rather than falling into their murderous hands alive.

After a brief time every day the murderers ransacked and searched, sure that he had surfaced somewhere and was in hiding.

In a matter of days, the murderers had killed another 15 people. Among them, the Gorodetski family of five, who were killed because of the betrayal of the Burgermeister's [mayor's] wife, a Gentile who had quarreled with the young wife Khaye Gorodetski over a petty thing. Khaye shouted at her, "Don't think your power has come!" And that was enough. That same evening she and her mother were led to "the little mountain" outside the shtetl and on the way, in the street, both were shot in the neck. They lay there in the street for an entire day. Her brother and two small sons (twins) were shot in their homes and the twins were then thrown outside. The next morning, nothing more that remained of them but their heads, gnawed by pigs.


[Len288s.jpg [6 KB] - Khaye Gorodetski and family
[Click here to enlarge the picture]
Chaya Gorodetzky and her husband, with their twins,
Asher’ka and Yudela


In a short time, the 10th of May, 1942, they made a ghetto in Lenin, and drove all the Jews from the shtetl into one street, fenced in on all sides. Each house held between 20-30 people. Going out was forbidden, except with special work permits. The situation worsened daily, though in truth, it must be written that some members of the Gentile population helped greatly and by various means made efforts to smuggle bread, flour, milk, potatoes, etc. in to the ghetto. Yet there was not a day when all sorts of things were not confiscated from the Jewish population: once shoes, another time, clothing, laundry, watches, sugar, cocoa, soap, perfume, musical instruments, etc., etc.

Misery and fear of the unknown future were in everyone's face. Very often we used to speak among ourseles to strengthen each other, saying that this government would not last long, and ultimately, they would suffer a defeat, regardless of the temporary entry of the Red Army. We had no contact with the neighboring shtetlakh, but we knew that ghettos existed everywhere.

One evening all the Jews of the ghetto were rounded up and those able to work were selected. In the morning of the 22nd of May, 1942, they were sent by train to a work camp in Hantsevitsh (near Baranovitsh). There were already 120 Jews from the shtetl Pagost (near Pinsk) there; altogether, including us, there were 350 men between the ages of 14 and 60 years old. Fathers and sons were there, and often some sets of brothers. We were quartered in a far corner of the shtetl in a small dirty alleyway, in some little houses, 30-40 men in a house, sleeping on 3-tiered bunks. In such close quarters we had to be concerned about sanitation. In a sanitary inspection, if a louse was found, the "infested one" could be shot. Also for becoming sick or getting mange (or scabies), etc., – a bullet. Therefore, though we had to work hard, nobody dared to fall ill. We got 200 grams of bread a day and 20 grams of barley-that was all.

Groups of people immediately began to think about running away. But to where and with what? We had very dark news about locating partisans anywhere,. We were guarded at work during the day; at night, we were watched-by the police. Very often there would be a sudden inspection to verify that we were all in our places. If a person were missing, it was said, that the entire camp would be shot.

Every day, the decision to escape became stronger. But we had to arrange it that everyone would run at the same time, not individually. If we had organized merely the pile of people who were all the while chomping at the bit to escape, all those who remained in the camp and those remaining in our shtetl Lenin would have been murdered.

One evening in late summer, all as one, we abandoned everything, and without even a bit of bread, began to run in the direction of the woods, about 2 kilometers from the city. This happened so spontaneously and unexpectedly that by the time the Germans and the police realized it, we had already overcome all the obstacles on the way, like deep ditches of water, barbed wire fences, etc. and were entering the woods.

It had become very dark. The whole group got scattered and lost. Not knowing well enough where to run, we divided up into groups and spread out in different directions. In my group were 23 men. The shooting around us seemed to be growing closer in every direction, but thanks to the deep woods and our own carefulness, we succeeded in part to break through, and in a while many of us reached various partisan camps that took 3 or 4 of us in. A great many of us were killed along the way; some by the bullets of the Germans and the police; some were captured and brought back and hanged. Among those hanged were the five Gelanson brothers, two fathers and their sons, and others; all together 20 men. In total, those of us who remained alive joined partisan groups, perhaps 80-90 men of 230 who fled. I personally wandered around for eight weeks until I was taken in by partisans. Almost the entire time I ate only berries and raw mushrooms.

At that time, a punishment force of S. S. men arrived in Lenin, and with the police of Lenin and the surrounding villages, they cruelly slaughtered the entire Jewish population, leaving only 28 "specialists," who a month later, joined the partisans who had entered Lenin. All the remaining people, over 900 souls, were surrounded on all sides by the Germans and led in cars in groups to the "little mountain" outside the shtetl. On the way, the young women sang songs and shouted "Down with the bandits! Long live the Red Army which will avenge our young blood!"

Tanis the pharmacist and his wife poisoned themselves on the way in the car. Someone jumped in the lake. Near the little mountain everyone removed their clothes and was shot by automatic weapons and thrown, most still alive, in mass graves, bodies laid on top of each other. The blood of the elderly mixed with the blood of women and small children. In one hour's time, everything was finished. Lenin was judenrein.

In a few days, three young women who had hidden themselves were found by the local police and shot. One woman who was found and locked up overnight hanged herself there.

No better fate befell the remaining Gentile population of the shtetl. A few months later the 800 people were driven into a foundry which was set afire, and they were burned alive. After setting fire to the entire shtetl, the Germans and the police of the area left for Mikashevitsh, where they remained until the arrival of the Red Army.

Not one house remained in Lenin; the streets became overgrown by tall, wild grasses; it was simply difficult even to recognize whose home once stood in which place. Only by the hills of bricks and charred remains of trees could you stumble upon it.

This is the tragic summary of the three year reign of the Nazi murderers in Lenin. It is a bit of consolation that a small number of the German murderers were paid back in kind, and that among those who took vengeance upon the barbarians were many young people from Lenin, either as partisans or as solders of the Red and Polish armies.

Many of our youth sacrificed their lives to exterminate the Nazi pest.

[1] NB: The names of places in this document have been transliterated from Yiddish; I have not researched their Polish language equivalents. Return



[Page 291]

Types and Customs

Mordkhai Zaytshik

Translation by Paula F. Parsky

With a bit of pride, it can be recalled that, in contrast to many of the nearby shtetlekh, even the artisans of Lenin were not ignorant. Many of the wagon drivers and artisans liked to embellish their words with the sayings of the Sages and Biblical passages and ruminate over a chapter of Isaiah. They were also well acquainted, some of them even versed in the Talmud.


Yisroel the Blacksmith

Yisroel Gelanson, or Yisroel the Blacksmith, as he was called, worked all his life at his forge. But always in his free hours after work he would sit with his Gemorrah and actually understood what he studied.


Baynish the Shoemaker

Baynish the shoemaker, a quiet, tall Jew, who walked erect with a cane, his hands on his back, would sit more often in shul with a page of Gemorrah than he would sit at work. And he could study.


Khayim Khaykl

Khayim Khaykl, a simple but very pious Jew, worked hard, always dragging a "Utshinke" or a skin of a calf with his big, heavy boots covered in mud… But Shabbos! He threw off all his dirt and cares!

The entire day he would enjoy himself in shul at the pulpit, saying Psalms, the congregation after him-that was his "franchise"… he was more gifted than anyone else in Psalms. It ran through him like a psalm.


Wagon Drivers

Even traveling with the wagon drivers in the long, always muddy ditches to the station in Mikashevitsh, you were not bored, because of the various sayings, passages, legends and stories that you would hear from them the entire time.

They would even speak to their horses with a special "Hebrew" [Holy language] lexicon taken from Tevye the Milkman.


Len292s.jpg [6 KB] - Betzalel Zaytchik and his sons
[Click here to enlarge the picture]
Betzalel Zaytchik and his sons,
Binyamin and Yehuda and a grandson

Betzalel "the Greek"

Here I will recall a very special type of the years gone by, that was Betzalel Zaytshik, or Betzalel 'the Greek," as he was called.

They called him "the Greek" because he was one of the cantonists of the time of Nikolai the First when young boys would be seized and sent away to study in the military, where they had to serve for an entire 25 years…

Betzalel was one of those, who, as an eleven year old boy, was captured and loyally served the entire 25 years.

Although he had spent so many years among the Gentiles, he used to say he almost never profaned the Sabbath and also did not eat "treyf."

Physically, he was well-developed-- in gait and appearance, a true military man. He rose to the rank of sergeant-major, in those days, a great accomplishment.

Specific Russian curses which he would use when he became angry remained with him.

He lived a very long time, and until the end, was healthy and in full control of his faculties.

In the year 1928, during the visit of Polish General Skladkovski to Lenin, among other delegates, Betzalel Zaytshik presented himself, asking the General to recognize his right to a pension, which he deserved, in his opinion, because of his long years of service to the Russian Czar. Besides, he bragged of his distinguished service-- among other things, in his participation in the suppression of the famous Polish uprising of 1863. The General, hearing these words, angrily replied, "What?! You fought against us and want us to be grateful for you and grant you a pension for this?!" Of course, he received none.


"Snagging" a Cow

In his old age, people would go to him to snag a cow (it was called that because he was an expert in this), this means, when a cow didn't return from the fields with the herd and wandered off somewhere. In such circumstances the owner of the cow would come to Betzalel "the Greek," to have him "snag" it. That meant that the cow would remain in one place, where it had strayed and not go off to another place. This made it easier to find the cow and bring it back home.

He did not do this willingly, complaining that he couldn't do it, that he was mere flesh and blood. But he would nevertheless let himself be convinced to "snag" the cow.

People would also go to him to undo an "evil eye."

He died at the age of 94 in 1933.


[Page 294]

My Mother

Sarah Fogelman

Translation by Paula F. Parsky


In a street of our shtetl that was inhabited mainly by Gentiles and only a few Jews, lived a Jewish family with a lot of small children. The father of the family, a weak man, was not able to fully care for his children. And the household often went hungry and never had enough to eat. The father would go away on Sunday for the entire week to the neighboring villages to earn his living. The daily burden and care of the entire family fell chiefly to the mother, a small, exhausted woman, her hands always busy with work and her head always full of worries about how to get a bit of food for her children. In addition, there was also an old father, who together with the entire family, ten souls all together, lived-in the same little one room house.

From time to time the family, like other families who lived in difficult social conditions, were helped for the Sabbath with various products, like Shabbos candles, challah, etc., as was the custom in the little shtetlekh. But, given the poverty of the family, this support was like a drop of water in the sea.

Nevertheless, the cleanliness and order of the little house was something to marvel at. Right at the door, you could see the yellow sand that had been scattered so that no one would track inside the mud for which our shtetl, located in the middle of several swamps, was noted. Opening the door, you always would encounter the mother, her hands occupied with washing, darning, dusting or preparing food-a few spoiling potatoes and barley. That was generally their lunch.

Because there were children of my age to play with, I was a frequent guest in that house. I would observe how the little children would sit around the table and wait impatiently until the mother cut off a bit of the black, rounded bread for each outstretched hand. Many times, a child would not be content with his portion, and would complain that his brother's piece was a little bigger, until the mother would shout for quiet, and with a sigh, burst into tears, quietly resume her work. I remember that in my house, we didn't lack for food, and yet suddenly, such an appetite would come upon me that it seemed to me that if the woman had offered me such a bit of bread, I would have eaten it gladly!

On Friday evenings, the children would look out into the distance for their guest-their father-with great happiness. Seeing him approaching, they would run to meet him and help him carry his sack that he carried on his shoulders, with the bit of products he earned for his week's work. Often his wife would pour the pain and bitterness of the entire week onto the head of her husband. And yet she didn't complain too terribly about her fate and hoped patiently that when the children would grow up, they would lighten their heavy burden.

And so it happened. In time, the two older sons each taught themselves a trade, and in that same room which served as the lodging for the entire family, there was also a place for their workshops. It is hard to imagine, but even this did not disrupt the cleanliness of this living space, with the two beds, always--made up with white sheets, taut pillows, and brightly embroidered covers which remained from her girlhood. The two only beds near the oven served the entire family. Each night before going to sleep the mother did not forget to change the pretty covers of the pillows to simple ones, to preserve the decorated ones. She knew that she would not be able to buy new pretty pillowcases very easily.

So this family lived, like many other families, unpretentiously, in poverty, suffering, hope and faith. They raised a generation of quiet, honest children, artisans who later lived, worked, and earned a living for themselves and their families. This continued until the Holocaust that made an end to everything and everyone, and equalizing everyone in one mass grave: no more cares, no more worries, no more earnings, no more life; one mass grave for everyone, for the hungry and for the well-fed, for the contented, for the suffering.

The filthy Nazi hands destroyed everything and left only a mass grave to commemorate our little shtetl Lenin.

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